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The Trump administration has been put under fire by faith leaders this last week after the federal government decided to begin executing federal prisoners. This choice ends a nearly two-decade-long moratorium on the federal death penalty.

This comes after the U.S. Department of Justice carried out its second execution on July 16th, killing 68-year-old Wesley Purkey. He died by lethal injection. Purkey was convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl and killing an 80-year-old woman in 2003.

Daniel Lewis Lee, convicted in being involved in killing a family of three, was executed just a few days earlier than Purkey. These cases were the first uses of capital punishment by the federal government since 2003. Faith leaders say the federal government’s use of the death penalty, which resumed after a 2019 push by the Justice Department, is out of step with their faith.

“So much for the ‘pro-life’ administration,” the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, wrote in a Facebook post. “The taking (of) a life is always immoral. So is the taking (of) a life to punish the taking of another life. This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the death penalty is ‘inadmissible.’ It is an assault on the dignity of the human person and on human life.”

Thousands have signed a letter to be given to the Whtie House, asking them to halt the practice of capital punishment.

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the statement reads. “As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions.”

The executions come at a time when opposition to capital punishment has climbed to some of the highest levels in decades.

A 2018 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 55% of Americans preferred life in prison without parole over the death penalty for people convicted of murder, compared with 44% who preferred capital punishment. Most major religious groups — such as Black Protestants (80%), white Catholics (54%) and non-Christian religious groups (57%) — also favored life in prison, with two notable exceptions: White evangelicals (62%) and white mainline Protestants (54%) both preferred the death penalty.

“The government isn’t being ‘tough on crime’ when it executes our fellow citizens,” Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun and longtime opponent of the death penalty, tweeted on Wednesday. “The death penalty is a sign of weakness, not strength. It shows that our society has failed to solve social problems. Capital punishment makes the U.S. a human rights pariah in the global community.”

Trump’s support for the practice is in stark contrast with his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic who is backing legislation to end the use of the death penalty at the federal level.

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